When you’re busy thinking about family dynamics and how to survive an in-law visit, you might not be at your most eco-vigilant. Here are a few things to remember this holiday season to safeguard the kids—and even the family pets.
Artificial trees are typically made from PVC plastic (it’s used as a stabilizer) and can contain lead, a potent neurotoxin. This could come off as dust on little hands as they decorate or remove candy canes. Artifical trees can also contain flame-retardants, linked to whole host of childhood diseases. Real trees can harbor pesticide residues.
Choose a live tree, preferably one locally and/or sustainably grown and unsprayed. Mulch when done; many towns now offer post-holiday mass mulching. You can also “borrow” a live tree that gets replanted post holidays. If you want artificial, seek out a PVC-free version.
Strings of sparkles make everything pretty, but watch out! Those lights (even the solar-powered ones) are made from PVC and therefore may contain lead.
Seek out lead-free lights by looking for ones with the label “RoHS-compliant.” The Consumer Product Safety Commission states that holiday lights are not children’s products. Make it a family rule that lights are something adults handle, never kids.
Beyond lights, many traditional holiday decorations can contain hazards. Lead, in particular, has been found in strings of shiny colorful beads.
Embrace nature. Swap in strings of popcorn and collections of pinecones for plastic or metal objects. Wreaths, holly, and anything fresh are a safer—and pretty—option.
Sweets can really overwhelm the holidays and there’s a growing body of evidence to support sugar’s toxicity. But surely if there’s a time and a place for sugar, it’s now. If you want to have your cake, artificial flavors and colors—which have been linked to various childhood illnesses—do not need a place at the table.
Think of treats as on a sliding scale. Choose the better options. As in: home baked goods with real butter and fruit instead of artificial, colorful highly processed treats. Want candy canes? Look for ones dyed with natural, not artificial colors. Dark plain chocolate—preferably organic—is better than overly sugary or dyed bars. And look out for unexpected places sugar lurks, like canned cranberry sauce or even stuffing.
Aroma can set a holiday mood, but there’s no telling what might be in that fragrance. Scents are currently government protected as trade secrets. But we do know they tend to pollute the indoor air with hormone disrupting chemicals, among other ingredients of concern.
Simmer citrus fruit and/or cloves and cinnamon on your stove to fill the whole house with a truly natural scent.
Children’s toys can and do contain everything from lead to cadmium to hormone disrupting chemicals to flame-retardants. It can be difficult to impossible for parents to tell what lurks where.
To avoid harmful substances, give experiential gifts! Think tickets to the theater, afterschool classes, or family outings. For toys, look for items made in the USA. Natural wood and fibers like wool and cotton are also good bets, so are materials that don’t promise performance (i.e. fire resistant or waterproof). Seed packets made good stocking stuffers, and offer the promise of spring.